Seeking adequate and fair compensation as a result of a car accident can be extremely difficult if you do not have a lot of experience evaluating car accident injuries and claims. The main purpose of calculating and determining damages is to attempt to restore you to the same position that you were in prior to the accident.
Depending on your case, you will be able to seek compensation for a variety of damages, including both special and general damages. Special damages are monetary (quantifiable) losses that are directly related to your accident and injuries. Generally, these damages can be calculated and are “sum certain” (a specific amount). General damages, on the other hand, are difficult to calculate and are often subjective. Also, general damages are not guaranteed in every case. This article provides a general overview of the types of damages that may be available in a North Carolina personal injury claim.
Special damages are calculable and quantifiable damages in that they are easily documented, proven and calculated. However, special damages still require detailed documentation and will need support to prove they are reasonable and necessary damages related to your bodily injury.
Special damages include medical expenses, losses to income, out-of-pocket expenses and personal property damage. To prove these types of damages, it is important to keep up with all records and receipts related to your accident. Provided below is a general overview of the different categories of special damages.
Medical expenses are important in that they generally make up a significant portion of most personal injury claims for damages. These costs are extremely important because they are viewed as the launching pad for your recovery. Medical expenses will consist of all of your medical treatment, starting immediately after the accident and continuing into the future, when applicable. Thus, if you will continue to receive medically necessary treatment for your injuries for the foreseeable future, or if you become disabled as a result of the accident, you should be able to argue for higher damages and, therefore, a larger recovery amount.
In essence, your medical expenses include the medical bills that you incurred as a result of your accident-related treatment. Medical expenses are usually in the form of bills from all your medical providers, including hospitals, doctors, specialists and chiropractors. Also included are diagnostic tests such as x-rays, MRIs and CT scans, for example. It is important to note that these costs must be supported by proper documentation, such as medical records and bills.
A word of caution – if you have insurance, you may not be able to claim the entire billed amount. For further information on how your medical expenses can be affected by your insurance provider’s payment, please visit the Billed vs. Paid section.
Lost income is also an important component of your personal injury recovery. These damages include all wages and other earnings lost as a result of your accident. Calculations should start from the date of your accident and continue until you are able to return to work. Generally, there are three types of lost income that you may be able to claim: lost wages, lost earning capacity and lost opportunity. Lost wages consist of the actual time you missed from work due to your injuries. Lost earning capacity generally arises when your injuries prevent you from working in the same profession as before the accident. Lastly, lost opportunity can be claimed when you missed out on a potential business opportunity.
Lost income must be supported by appropriate documents, including letters from both your employers and doctors stating which days you were out of work and why. Also, economists and vocational rehabilitation specialists may be important when claiming lost earning capacity. For a more detailed understanding of lost income, please visit the following article.
Out-of-pocket expenses usually only make up a small portion of your recovery; however, out-of-pocket expenses can be substantial in larger claims. These types of expenses include costs related to your accident that you have had to pay yourself, such as prescriptions, medical aids (crutches, braces, walkers, etc.), travel and any other costs you would not have had but for your injuries. For all out-of-pocket expenses, receipts should be kept as evidence of the costs incurred.
When injured in an accident, you can also seek compensation for non-economic damages, known as general damages.” General damages are difficult to determine and are often subjective, as they cannot simply be calculated from sum certain amounts (i.e., medical bills, lost wages). In other words, you cannot simply add up numbers (as you can with special damages) to get a dollar amount. Determining general damages often involves assigning a dollar amount to a subjective injury. Damages such as pain and suffering or emotional distress are unique to each set of circumstances; thus, general damages are not guaranteed in every case. Provided below is a general overview of the different categories of general damages in North Carolina.
Pain and Suffering
Under North Carolina law, you may be entitled to recover for past and future pain and suffering after a car accident. Compensation for pain and suffering includes the pain and discomfort you endure at the time of the accident and any future suffering. Therefore, pain and suffering should be thought of in two separate categories: (1) past and present pain and suffering and (2) future pain and suffering. Past and present pain and suffering is what you endure from the time of the accident until your settlement or award. Future pain and suffering is any continuing pain you may endure in the future (after your claim is resolved).
Generally, the amount you are likely to receive for pain and suffering depends on the severity and duration of your accident-related injuries. For instance, a more painful and severe injury will result in an individual’s ability to assert and support a higher demand for pain and suffering compensation. Also, medical expenses and pain and suffering claims correlate in that higher medical expenses generally result in higher compensation for pain and suffering.
You may also be able to seek compensation for emotional distress that was caused by your accident. Emotional distress may include conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Generally, you must prove that the changes to your mental state were the proximate result of the negligence of the at-fault driver. Psychologists or psychiatrists most often support claims for emotional distress.
Loss of Consortium
Loss of consortium is a unique damage that is not claimed by the injured party, but is brought forward by the injured party’s spouse. Generally speaking, loss of consortium deals with three losses. The first is the loss of services by a spouse. This typically involves what the spouse used to do for the family on a daily basis (cleaning, cooking, caring for children, etc.). The second type of loss is for companionship, which may include emotional losses such as spending time together and doing normal social activities. Lastly, loss of consortium includes compensation for losses to the sexual companionship between spouses. A debilitating injury to one party in a marriage is most often the cause of a loss of consortium claim.
Also, pursuant to North Carolina law, a claim for loss of consortium by a spouse must be joined or presented with the accident victim’s personal injury claim to help protect against double recovery. In other words, if you suffer from a debilitating injury and your spouse wants to sue for loss of consortium, then the spouse must add the claim to your existing personal injury claim.
Although you may not be at fault in an accident, you still have a duty to mitigate damages. In other words, you have an obligation, under the law, to minimize the effects and losses related to your injuries. An at-fault claims adjuster in your personal injury case will often try to reduce your compensation by showing that you failed to take reasonable steps to reduce your damages. This obligation includes seeking other employment and retraining if you are no longer able to work in your current profession. With this being said, be sure to seek treatment if you need it. If you do not seek treatment for your injuries and attempt to mitigate the damages on your own, you will likely not be able to seek compensation.
For example, imagine that you are injured in an accident and fail to complete the recommended treatment as advised by your doctor, and, as a result, your injury becomes worse. You will not likely be able to seek compensation from the at-fault driver for treatment pertaining to the worsening of your injury because you failed to take reasonable steps to reduce that injury.
In general, damages can be difficult to understand and calculate, especially general damages. Moreover, seeking compensation for those damages and negotiating with an at-fault driver’s insurance adjuster can be a formidable task. To view more articles pertaining to compensation for a personal injury claim, please visit this section of the site.